Friday, November 30, 2012

Technology and a Changing Global Context

A presentation by Van Wishard, reprinted in its original form, unedited and in its entirety, with permission of the author.

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Van Wishard
Westminster at Lake Ridge
October 22, 2012

We’re going to consider some interesting subjects this morning -- technology and a changing global context -- and some of you might like to consider this material further. If so, just be in touch with Heather Reich or myself, and we’ll see that you get a copy.

What does a changing global context mean, and by context I mean the mental framework within which we perceive life.

Most of us have some intuitive sense that the world is, and has been, passing through extraordinary times. We can’t quite define it, but we see it in the world news and in our daily lives. It’s men walking on the moon; it’s one person reaching millions of people via the Internet; it’s China, comprising every fifth person in the world, becoming a global power. We continue on with our daily routine; but we have an unarticulated sense that somehow the entire context in which we have lived our lives is changing.

Different people have tried to describe this changing context in different ways. The renowned anthropologist, Philip Tobias, says, “I regard the computer as the most significant leap since humans acquired the capacity for spoken language some two million years ago.”

I want to try to bring Tobias’s cosmic statement down to present-day reality.

In the 1980s, I had a luncheon with Alvin Toffler, author of the best-selling book, Future Shock – and he was one of the fathers of the “futurist” movement. I asked him what was to be the result of everyone having access to all scientific, religious and philosophical beliefs via the Internet. His instant reply was, “It’s the end of truth.”

I thought about that statement for years afterwards. Toffler wasn’t saying that truth wouldn’t exist; only that everyone would have his or her own interpretation of truth. Thus it would be more difficult for a society to abide by any underlying set of convictions. You can see that this is what has happened over the past decades. The more information technology we have developed, the more difficult it has become to cohere around any consensus on political or social issues.

That reality underlies much of the political and existential confusion we see in the Middle East today. From 4000 BCE to the recent removal of General Mubarak, Egypt was ruled by an authoritarian ruler. In the Middle East as a whole, the history of governance has been either by foreign powers, dictatorship, or sectarian or tribal leaders. Over the past decade, the Internet, Facebook and Twitter have fractured the authority of these groups, and opened different concepts of governance. The youth particularly became entranced by the glitter of Western democracy, and sixty percent of the Arab world is under the age of twenty-five. 

Now keep in mind that it took over five hundred years for the Western mind psychologically to mature from the Magna Carta in 1215, to the Rights of Man in 1789. Western democracy is not just a political system; it is a political expression of a certain psychological and historical evolution.

The Middle East has not had similar historical circumstances or the context in which to make a comparable journey. In my view, this is part of the deeper reason for the chaos we see unfolding across the entire Middle East. And thus George Friedman, founder of the strategic analysis company STRATFOR, writes: “The NATO approach to Libya assumed that the removal of a tyrant would somehow inevitably lead to a liberal democracy.” Indeed, this view has been the assumption of the West about Middle East in general, at least going back to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Egypt has taken the first steps forward, but even if these steps are consolidated, there are more steps to go. In much of the Middle East there has not yet been the rise of effective democracies with their own security agencies governed by the rule of law.

I would offer five more trends, which help illustrate the changing global context. Then we’ll focus on a specific technological development and the questions it raises.

First trend, for the first time in history, the Caucasian race is no longer reproducing itself. No European country is reproducing its population; nor are Caucasians in North America reproducing themselves. The implications of this are so far-reaching that it’s difficult even to speculate what they might be.

Second, future ages may view man’s seeing the Earth from the Moon as the defining event of all subsequent history. Joseph Campbell, the renowned historian of myth and psychology, clearly considered it the most significant psychological event of the past several thousand years. Seeing Earth from the Moon vastly accelerated the collapse of all the boundaries that provide identity for nation, race, religion and class. Thus every nation, indeed, every person to some degree or other, faces a crisis of identity.

Third, the ability to create change, as well as the attitude that change is desirable, is now a global possession. Throughout history, in all civilizations, continuity rather than abrupt change has been the normal state of affairs. No society on the planet knows how to live with constant, radical change. Thus, for the first time in history, every nation is, concurrently with all other nations, in a state of profound upheaval as we try to adjust to an ever-accelerating pace of change.

Fourth, for the first time in history, what constitutes a family is being redefined. This has acute psychological implications for government, education, social cohesion, and what we broadly term “civil society.”

Fifth, our whole symbolic language has been devalued. For example, the word “heaven” used to carry a sacred meaning. It was the dwelling place of the gods, a place people hoped to go when they died, our link with eternity. Now, we speak simply of “space,” an endless void. Similarly, we used to speak of “Mother Earth,” which gives the Earth a creative, nurturing implication. Now, we speak only of “matter,” an abstract, lifeless substance. In this way, our symbolic language has been diminished. The function of symbolic language is to infuse into our conscious life some of the transcendent meaning that emanates from the unconscious realm, thus giving our daily lives a deeper vitality. That connection has been weakened, so there’s far less transcendent energy brought into our conscious life.

So this is part of the larger context within which all other discussions about life—Syria and the Middle East, the upcoming election, our relationship with China, and all else takes place.

And now we are at the beginning of another technological development potentially far more consequential than the Internet. Ray Kurzweil is a computer scientist who has received thirteen honorary doctorate degrees, and has been received by the White House for his work in helping the blind and the deaf through the use of computers.

I came across Kurzweil’s work in the ‘80s and have more or less followed him ever since. He has written several books, one entitled The Singularity, in which he describes the time ahead when, he argues, computers will merge with human brains and create a superior form of life. “We’re now very dependent on our computers,” he says. “We no longer have our hand on the switch, so to speak, because our civilization is so dependent on the machines, and bit by bit the machines are getting more and more intelligent…At some point, there’s going to be a merger.”

Kurzweil asserts that due to what’s called “Moore’s Law,” which says that with every passing two years, the miniaturization of computer chips roughly doubles their speed and cuts their cost by half, that by 2030, computers will be powerful enough to run programs reproducing the 10,000 trillion electrical signals that flash every second among the twenty-two billion neurons in the human skull. They will also have the memory to store the 10 trillion recollections that a typical brain houses. By about 2045, Kurzweil believes computers will be able to accommodate all the minds in the world, effectively merging carbon- and silicon-based intelligence into a single global consciousness.

Kurzweil was a lone voice when he started. Gradually, he built up a following in the scientific community. Now he’s head of a PhD. haven called Singularity University in Silicon Valley. DARPA, the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, has begun employing some of his work in their forward planning. DARPA’s “Brain Interface Project” is now looking at the possibility of molecular-scale computers, built from enzymes and DNA molecules rather than silicon, which could be implanted into soldiers’ heads. DARPA hopes that more advanced models will give soldiers some of the advantages of machines by speeding up their synaptic links, adding memory, and even providing wireless Internet access. In similar vein, DARPA’s “Silent Talk Project” is working on implants that will decode preverbal electrical signals within the brain and send them over the Internet so troops can communicate without radios or e-mail. One National Science Foundation report suggests that such “network-enabled telepathy” will become a reality in the 2020s.

So on and on it goes, potentially leading to a change in what it means to be a human being.

But dissenting voices exist. Dr. Susan Greenfield, one of Europe’s foremost psychiatrists, warned that “ignoring the way digital experience rewires the brain—literally ‘blowing the mind’—may one day be akin to doubting global warning.”

Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and whom the Economist magazine describes as the “Edison of the Internet”, says of Kurzweil’s experiments, “I think it no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation-states.” Joy suggested that the only solution is “to limit development of certain technologies that are too dangerous, by limiting our pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge.”

The Economist magazine asks the critical question: “Is the speed of technology development exceeding humanity’s moral and mental capacities to control it?”  

And finally, Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine and author of several books on technology and its future. Writes Kelly: “In the great vacuum of meaning, in the silence of unspoken values, in the vacancy of something large to stand for, something bigger than oneself, technology—for better or worse—will make our decisions for us.” This, from one of the leading spokesmen of America’s technologists

Well, with DARPA involved, we’re past the point of any concerns being taken seriously at this point, no matter how valid they may be. To be sure, there some are tremendous benefits to Kurzweil’s inventions.

But Kurzweil also believes what he’s doing is the next step in evolution, and will lead to a global consciousness and, ultimately, immortality.  At this point, I’m reminded of what the physicist Freeman Dyson, who worked on the atomic bomb, suggested.  In talking about the development of nuclear weapons, Dyson wrote, “To perform these miracles, to lift a million tons of rock into the sky…it is something that gives people an illusion of illimitable power…this is what you might call the technical arrogance that overcomes people when they see what they can do with their minds.”

So motives can be mixed in the research and development of some aspects of contemporary technology. Some of it may be altruistic; some may stem from intellectual arrogance; and some from an existential vacuum.

Thus far, we’re on a beneficial course. Using the same brain/enzyme combination as I described earlier, DARPA has developed an artificial arm that can be used simply by thinking about it. Such artificial arms or legs will be of inestimable value to veterans who have lost limbs as a consequence of their service to the country. 

But when Kurzweil talks of evolution, a global consciousness and immortality, I believe he fails to take into account the deepest reaches of the human psyche.  That level is the shared unconscious level of the soul. This is a collective sub-strata even deeper than our personal unconscious mind. This mutual unconsciousness is shared by the whole human family. It is from this deeper level our religions, myths, legends, intuitions and premonitions emanate. They all express the same basic psychological truth, but in different cultural images deriving from different historical circumstances.

The hard evidence of the existence of this sub-strata is that anthropologists tell us that hundreds of thousands of years ago, when there were only a few million people on earth—across the world, a world minus any communication between peoples—religions, similar myths, legends, customs, rites of passage, modes of greeting, death rites, and standards of social intercourse, indeed, an elemental form of consciousness itself, began to emerge. This was not a case of these disperse people hearing of these developments from other parts of the world and then copying them; it was, over centuries, the simultaneous emergence of the development of a higher level of consciousness in the sub-strata of the collective human psyche.

While Kurzweil’s experiments appear to work at one level of the mind, they likely will fail at this deeper level. We clearly need a global consciousness, but I suggest it must evolve naturally just as consciousness has evolved naturally throughout history. Our link with the Eternal dimension of existence is not subject to human manipulation. That link, as the Catholic Church said in 1215, is “ineffable and unknowable.” It is this deepest level of the collective psyche Kurzweil appears not to take into account.  Keep in mind that while Kurzweil is a brilliant scientist, he is not a psychologist. He has not yet studied the mind at its deepest level – the level of the soul. 

Nevertheless, given what Ray Kurzweil has already contributed, he will surely take his place in the halls of great discovery.

Science and technology have got to go forward in the spirit of what Albert Einstein told the students in a talk at Cal Tech: “Concern for man himself and his fate must form the chief interest of all technical endeavors.”

I close with the words of C.G Jung, the psychiatrist who understood the 20th century at a deeper level than any person I’ve come across. Wrote Jung in The Atlantic Monthly in 1957, “We must now climb to a higher moral level; to a higher plane of consciousness in order to be equal to the superhuman powers science and technology have placed in our hands. In reality, nothing else matters at this point.”

I believe Jung’s warning is the foremost challenge for civilized life in the 21st century. It is only then we shall take the tradition of our historic culture to new heights, and create a new civilization with all the technological wonders that can enhance human life.

I realize what I’ve been discussing is dense material, but I believe it to be fundamental to being aware of the most basic factor at work in the rapidly changing global context in which we live.

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© 2012 – Van Wishard – All Rights Reserved

Reproduced with permission of the author.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Preventing A Disaster–Or Preparing To Survive One

* A fictional musing somewhat continued from "Divide and Conquer" originally posted in August of 2012, and “Financial Crisis”, originally posted in March of 2008 and inspired after conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States and senior officers in the US Military. *

In a darkened room lit only by the glare of a collection of large monitors on one wall, two men sat in silence as the flickering images provided an update regarding the state of the planet known as Terra.

And what a tale the monitors told.

Global warming continuing unabated while people argued over whether it was manmade or a natural part of the planet’s cyclical nature.  They argued over prevention when survival would be a better subject for discussion.  Others found a way to profit from promoting panic and fear without providing any solutions.

Wars percolating amongst a species that prided itself on being at its pinnacle in the areas of knowledge, understanding and peace.

Structured religions that didn’t see how they hypocritically violated every precept outlined in their own holy texts as they implored the devout to follow them.

New diseases constantly cropping up with the solution being to create products that solved that problem while creating three new problems instead of eliminating the root cause of the disease in the first place.

Poverty and hunger in a world that discards as trash, more than the destitute need to lift them out of their condition.

Government agencies around the planet whose laws are so self-contradictory to the principles that the respective countries were founded upon and whose spending habits would be decried as unsustainable and suicidal if any business or individual adopted similar practices.

And a planet hell-bent on shouting and screaming at each other instead of recognizing that respectful collaboration and dialogue provided the solution to every problem that Terra faced.

It was all good, proceeding exactly as planned.

Almost.

The first of the two men spoke softly, not taking his eyes off the monitors.

“How long do you think this charade can continue before the Terrans figure out what’s going on?”

“What do you mean?”, replied his colleague.

The first man continued. “How long do you think it will be before the Terrans realize that their governments around the planet have no ability to solve the problems in the world and then discover that their governments are not only not trying to solve the problems but in fact are intentionally allowing them to happen?”

His colleague nodded silently but said nothing, motioning for the first man to continue his line-of-thought.

“After all”, said the first man, “Our plans will not be brought to fruition if Terrans discover that their governments exist to placate them, keep them calm and keep them so off-balance that they don’t have time to think.  In fact, the sole role their governments fill is the role of positive public relations – “eat, drink and be happy while we solve all your problems”.  In addition, our strategy to use consumption as a means of keeping them placated has run its course as they exhaust their financial and planetary resources.  When they are no longer able to consume at the levels we need them to, their governments will lose the ability to control them and in turn, our influence over these governments will diminish.”

“What are you suggesting?”, asked his colleague.

“I’m not sure”, replied the first man, frowning. “If they discover that the momentum of what is developing on Terra cannot and will not be stopped but that hope for them lies in preparing for and surviving the aftermath, they may discover a solution that we had not anticipated”.

“In that case”, replied his colleague, “we will need to accelerate our efforts.  Surely it shouldn’t be that difficult to escalate a few wars, introduce a few more contradictory opinions to confuse them and instigate a few more causes to further weaken their so-called morals and values”.

The first man laughed and then, chuckling, said “You are right, as always.  I had forgotten that Terrans are in fact their own worst enemy.  Once again I give them too much credit to be able to solve their own problems.”

His colleague paused and then replied, “This is true for the most part.  However, there are still some holdouts who can make a difference and who can adversely impact our intentions.  But even they won’t matter soon enough”.

The first man smiled silently …. and they both turned their attention back to the monitors.

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© 2012 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In Memory of Zig Ziglar–Building a Legacy

Many people around the world are mourning the passing of Zig Ziglar today - master salesman, speaker extraordinaire,  the king of inspiration and a great father and family man.

Many of us can relate stories how the right piece of wisdom at the right time from Zig’s amazing repertoire helped us to close that big deal, persevere through difficulty or even pull us back from the brink.

And there were times when Zig provided us with a bit of fun even when he didn’t know it.

There is a story on Tom Ziglar’s (Zig’s son) blog that I shared with Tom a few years that I would like to share here.

The story was written from me to Tom directly and he posted it on his blog.  I include the story here exactly as I wrote it.

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Before I retired my strategy brain to devote my time to important challenges in the world, especially the needs of children, I used to work at Microsoft in NYC as a strategy advisor.

During difficult meetings or when teams would get stuck, I would often quote a story or two of your father’s to help people see things in a different perspective.  At some point, people began to call me into meetings that I wasn’t a member of to hear me share a story or two from your father’s incredible repertoire.  I helped create a lot of fans of your father’s work.

At some point, people started calling me “Zig”, after your father’s stories and one day someone said “There is only one Zig Ziglar – we will call Harry “Dig Digler” because we really dig the stories he shares with us from Zig Ziglar’s collection”.

At that time I was living on the road in a corporate apartment and on the day it was time for me to leave the apartment, I took the last of my stuff and went to a local Starbucks to relax.

A couple of hours later, a good friend of mine called my cell phone and he was very angry that I hadn’t told him I had left the apartment.  I replied that I didn’t think it mattered but apparently it did and here’s why.

Jonathan and I are very close, having worked together in NYC for about 15 years – our spontaneous banter and humor was well known.

Apparently, a fine southern gentleman had taken occupation of my corporate apartment after I moved out.  Jonathan called the apartment, he answered and Jonathan asked to speak to Harry.  The gentleman indicated that there was no one there by that name and Jonathan made the incorrect assumption that I was trying to impersonate your father’s southern accent.  So, being the spontaneous person he is, he asked to speak to Zig Ziglar.  The gentleman indicated there was no one there by that name either so Jonathan then asked to speak to Dig Digler.  The gentleman said there was no one here by that name and feeling a little frustrated, asked Jonathan who he was really looking for.

My friend was getting frustrated also since he thought I should have stopped playing games by now and so he said “I’m looking for you and I’m coming over right now”.  The guy replied “I’m calling the police” and hung up.

Apparently he used the caller id to call the local police and they stopped by my friend’s house just to make sure my friend was “ok”.

It was after the police left that he called me.

So I love your father’s stories and the way he presents them – they have been a great source of inspiration for me over the years and I have been blessed with the opportunity to connect many people with your father’s work.

However, when I think of your father, I also think of my friend and the day police visited him because he was trying to find “Dig Digler”.

Thank you for letting me share this story, Tom, and thank you to you, your father and your supporting teams and families for making this world a better place.  We need the work of people like you more than ever.

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There are millions of people who were touched, inspired and educated by the great Zig Ziglar and his legacy is immeasurable.  His son Tom and the great people in the Ziglar family and organization continue his great work.

Can we say the same about our legacy?

Are we trying hard enough to make this place one that has more knowledge, more inspiration and more love in it?

Are we striving hard enough to live by his many life principles, one of my favorites being “Make Gratitude Your Attitude”?

How do we know?

Rest in peace, Zig – you have earned your rest.

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Story of Cakemix MacIsaac

I often stick my beak into things that seem to be none of my business.  This morning found me interacting with some school administrators as I expressed concern over some stories that I had heard regarding how a certain teacher ran their classroom.

Everything I do is with purpose and my action this morning was no different.

But to explain why I stuck my beak into this situation, I need to rewind the clock almost 40 years to tell you the story of Cakemix MacIsaac.

Back when I was in elementary school, corporal punishment, intimidation and humiliation were the norm and not the exception in schools. 

I’m referring to the conduct of the teachers, not the students.

Schoolmates were rapped across the knuckles with the yardstick because they wrote left-handed.

Many of us, including myself, had a turn or two in the Dunce’s Chair, wearing the hat and sitting on a chair while being taunted by our fellow classmates (at the encouragement of the teacher) because we had turned in a piece of work that did not meet the teacher’s expectations.

And then there was Bob MacIsaac (not his real name).

Bob had a slight speech impediment and learned differently than we did and so he was often picked on by his classmates. 

It’s easy to say that cruelty on the part of such kids is typical of kids.  However, it is a learned behavior …. they learn such behavior from us.

But I digress.

One day Bob turned in an assignment that was completely messed up.  It was one of those “pick a word from a list of words and fill in the blanks” type of assignment and he filled the words into the blanks in the order that they were on the list, missing the point of the exercise.

It’s intriguing to me that the mistakes he made are as vivid to me now as they were 40 years ago.  For example, instead of writing “I tan in the sun”, he wrote “I broil in the sun”.

Our teacher singled his assignment out and read each sentence out loud to the classroom to the sounds of guffaws and hysterical laughter.  A classmate of mine yelled out “It sounds like a cake mix, Miss” and our teacher replied “You’re right.  From now on we will call him Cakemix”.

He was humiliated beyond words.  Even as a very young person, I could see the pain in his face.

The name never left him.

Neither did the pain.

Even as adults, people still remember him as Cakemix MacIsaac.

And every time he is referred to as Cakemix, I know the humiliation he felt 40 years ago returns as sharply now as it did then.

Many of us overcome the taunting, bullying and humiliation that takes place in our childhood and we move on to create lives of purpose and positive impact.  I went from being a class Dunce to founding and IPOing companies in NYC. 

Some of us can leverage such a background to propel ourselves towards success.

But some people don’t - not every kid moves on from such humiliation.

In fact, for some it becomes a millstone around their neck that lives with them forever.

Bob is one of those people.  He never recovered any sense of self-confidence to accomplish much in his Life.

It wasn’t his fault alone.

It wasn’t his teacher’s fault alone.

It was OUR fault.

We all own the responsibility, the credit AND the blame for what society produces.

Our choices matter

We can’t choose to save every person that we meet nor are we required to.

However, we can choose not to intentionally set them back also.

Children may not know the difference.

But we do.

And they will model what we do.

Modeling what we do is where real education occurs and is also the most impactful and the most long-lasting.

What kind of model are you being today?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Addendum: November 29, 2012

I do want to add that by way of this post, I am not diminishing the effort put forward by the MANY great, committed educators in our education system and the positive impact that they have on our lives and society-at-large.

My example was solely to demonstrate the impact that someone of influence can have when they are the wrong type of role model and is not directed at teachers specifically or in general.  I have too much respect for our educators to collectively disrespect them.

Monday, November 26, 2012

We The People …. Or Not

I noticed recently that President Obama finally got his Internet Kill Switch law passed.

No, not the one he was trying to drive through Congress a couple of years ago.  Congress stymied him for so long that he eventually gave up using the system with its checks and balances (and not without its frustration on occasion) and passed an Executive Order granting himself the privilege.

Executive Orders (aka Executive Directives) are an intriguing idea in US politics.  The President can create them at any time, can leave them in effect as long as he / she wishes, can invoke them as defined within the definition of the Order and the content of the law, including the rights of American citizens while the Order is in effect, are classified.

These Orders are often even beyond the oversight of the people we elect into government.

I’m all for passing laws to ensure the security and integrity of the nation.

In the hands of a good leader taking action to benefit or protect the nation, the laws can prevent an otherwise catastrophic event from bringing a nation to its knees.

And in the hands of the wrong leader, such laws can undermine the greatest nation on earth.

Which way the laws can be used is difficult to determine when the people we elect into power can pass laws that are beyond the ability for “we the people” to examine.

It is difficult to tell when the people we elect into power can circumvent the natural checks and balances built into the system (as frustrating as that system can be sometimes).

It is difficult to tell when even our own lawmakers in Congress are not permitted to see the content of the Executive Orders.

It is difficult to tell when one cannot easily determine if elected individuals answer to “we the people” or if it is the other way around.

And it is difficult to tell when “we the people” don’t bother to be educated when it comes to knowing how the system works or where it is going.

A nation gets stronger when strong, informed people elect strong, informed leaders.

When either side of that equation is not as strong or as informed as it should be, the nation doesn’t get stronger.

It gets weaker.

In addition to being informed, one has to have the will and the desire to make a nation stronger.  One actually has to care about the future of their nation and provide more than lip service.

Do you know which way America is going?

How do you know?

Are you certain?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Strengthening Our Pillars

Have you ever noticed, in person or via photos and videos, that there is a common characteristic of many of the buildings of eras gone by.

No matter how little remains of the structures of bygone cultures, oftentimes the pillars remain standing.

There is a reason we refer to things like “pillars of strength”, “pillars of faith”, etc.

It is because no matter how strong (or weak) the surrounding structure is, the pillars are designed to withstanding assault from external forces, whether it be physical attack, natural disaster, aging or even the persistent force of Mother Nature.

Pillars aren’t strong by accident.  Their design and the materials that they are made of assures the architect that they will withstand great forces against them and enable the building to properly serve its purpose.

The same is true for the pillars that shore us up personally and professionally.

Whether those pillars come in the form of family, friends, colleagues, faith, tradition, knowledge or anything else that we use to strengthen us and shore us up against the forces that swirl around us, such pillars cannot serve their purpose unless we choose them wisely and intentionally maintain and strengthen them.

Building pillars that are poorly designed, selected, built or maintained undermine the strength, purpose and safety of the buildings that they were built for.

The same is true of our personal pillars when it comes to creating a Life of purpose, passion and positive impact.

Are you building and maintaining strong personal pillars for yourself?

Are you a strong pillar for someone else?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Seven Sins of Business

Those who know me well know that I have an interest in theology in addition to my work in corporate strategy and large-scale enterprise architecture.

In reading the Book of Revelations last night, it occurred to me that the sins attributed to the seven churches apply to many businesses as well.

How many of these “sins” is your organization guilty of?

Ephesus

Has lost sight of its first love, or in business nomenclature, its vision, mission and purpose and drives along aimlessly before running out of resources and momentum.  They have also lost a “love” for those whom they serve, especially their customers and their own team members.  The leaders in such organizations are unable or unwilling to cast a vision that creates excitement and passion for others to embrace while envying others who can create such passion.

Smyrna

Has victory within reach but is at risk of failure because when the squeeze of reality hits, their belief in themselves wavers and their ability to persevere needs to be shored up – but do they have the courage to ask for help in strengthening their resolve?  They also don’t realize the gifts that are before them.  Excessive ego and the inability to obtain help or the reverse, insufficient self-confidence, have destroyed many companies in such predicaments.

Pergamum

Are willing to compromise their corporate and personal morals and ethics to win, not realizing that such a strategy is short-lived and fraught with peril.  Wishy-washy ethics and morals, which are especially important when one is faced with challenge, are a sure-fire way to send a loud message to the public that says “I don’t know what I represent or what I am willing to stand up for”.  Such a message is easily picked apart by those receiving it as well as those looking to take advantage of one’s weaknesses.

Thyatira

Is rotting from within as a result of internal power struggles.  It fails to recognize that such rot from within, with multiple agendas that are not in congruence with the organization and its team members, including in the areas of morals, ethics and execution style eventually destroys the entire organization.  Strong leadership stamps this out early.  Weak leaders tolerate it or in some cases, encourage it because they think, incorrectly, that such strategy strengthens their own potential.

Sardis

Has lost its energy and drive for what matters and is on auto-pilot, with its present course taking it straight into the side of a mountain.  Meanwhile, they are focused on expending energy on what doesn’t matter in order to impress others – they look alive but in fact they are dead and no one seems to have the energy, interest or authority to bring its course back on track to one of success.  In some cases, attempts by outsiders to help are thwarted for fear that “it may make us look bad if someone else saves what we couldn’t or wouldn’t”.  Sufficient ego and energy well-utilized propel us to success.  Excessive ego or misdirected energy kills that same success potential.

Philadelphia

Has a small amount of power with huge potential for leverage and opportunity but  faces risk if it doesn’t take advantage of the opportunities such leverage provides, leaving a large amount of untapped potential on the table.  While they don’t appear to be doing anything wrong, potential unrealized can be as wasteful as doing the wrong thing.  If someone else seizes the opportunity, the potential they once had is lost for good.  Never underestimate the success that manifests when one seizes the moment, otherwise the competition will seize the moment to your detriment.

Laodicea

Despite tremendous wealth and opportunity, their complacency and smugness fills them with over-confidence.  This creates a laziness in execution, causing them to display an exorbitant amount of compromise, with its vision, mission and values blowing in the wind and its corporate execution constantly changing direction based on the opportunity / pressure du jour.  Eventually, no one know what it stands for and its opportunity for success is lost.  This is common in organizations with weak leadership or organizations that lack a strong, clearly communicated business strategy.

Such “sins”, while potentially fatal, can be overcome with corrective action.

However, corrective action in any of these cases requires:

  • the right amount of humility
  • the right amount of ego to balance against humility
  • sufficient amounts of passion (without burning out one’s organization) cast around intelligent vision, mission and purpose
  • an effective strategic plan and tactical roadmap for the organization, plans that grow with the organization, that are referenced frequently and that are not merely relegated to a filing cabinet after they are created
  • a plan that shows how each team member’s strengths, skills, talents and opportunity for personal and professional growth are recognized and embraced
  • an appetite to seize the moment, knowing that if you don’t, someone else will
  • a desire to not leave any opportunity on the table that the competition would gladly snap up
  • strong ethics and morals, especially in the areas of honesty, transparency, respect and personal accountability
  • leaders and team members who have the will to do what it takes to “repent” and to get the organization back on a path to success.

Failure to address one’s “corporate sins” will produce a painful, expensive success at best or apocalyptic failure in a worst-case scenario.

Choosing to be intelligent and proactive in execution allows one to prove another Bible adage to be correct:

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)

Actions and not words make it easy for an outside observer to predict an organization’s potential for success or failure.

What actions are you embracing?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lip Service–The Solution to Everything

I had an exchange the other day with someone setting up a new bully awareness campaign in New York.

I was intrigued by this particular program for a number of reasons, including the fact that I was heavily bullied as a child (which I wrote about in my blog entry Mitt Romney, Bullies and Red Herrings) and so bully-prevention is of special interest to me.

As a Fortune 25 strategy advisor, I am wired around measurable outcomes and so I asked what the intention was for this program, to which the reply was that the intention was to raise awareness about bullying.

My response was that we have lots of awareness about bullying – what will the millions of dollars you are about to spend do to help prevent it or help the victims of it?

The creator of the program wasn’t happy with my reply.  In his mind, awareness was what mattered most of all and that was the limit of his vision.

Unfortunately in the 21st century, we have too many programs like this that raise awareness and not enough programs to actually solve problems.

If you disagree, then perhaps you can explain to me why in an enlightened society that has more collective knowledge and more awareness campaigns than ever in our recorded history that we have more problems than ever.

Some personal examples

At one point in my career, I worked for one of the largest software companies in the world.  While it was a great company, we did one thing that intrigued me.

Once every quarter every employee was required to take a 5-minute online course to encourage us to respect diversity of gender, religion, creed, color, sexual orientation and any other lifestyle differences.  We boasted that as an organization, we were doing more to create diversity acceptance than anyone else in the corporate world.

I pointed out that for most of us 30 to 60-something-year-olds, if we haven’t gotten it into our heads how to be respectful to others by now, forcing us to watch a 5-minute video once every 3 months was not going to change anything.  In fact, it was just as likely to make the ignorant more ignorant as they were forced to participate in an educational component that already drew negative emotion from them.

The HR person I mentioned this to thought me of me as a non-team player for the rest of my stay there.  Her success metrics were around how many people watched the video and not how many people were influenced in a positive way after watching it.  The latter was never assessed to determine the impact of the course.

In another example, a colleague a few years ago set up a 10km walkathon to show women in Africa that we in the west felt their pain when it came to the fact that they had to walk 10km to get clean water.

I thought this was a great cause and so I asked what the walkathon was producing.  Was it raising money to drill a well closer to a village so that women wouldn’t have to walk as far to get clean water?  Was it raising awareness so that other people would be inspired to take action to help people get better access to clean water?

“Nope”, the coordinator replied proudly, “The sole purpose is so that the women in that village know that we stand in support of their struggle”.

“Ok”, I reasoned, “but you are only promoting this on Facebook with no funds raised, no large-scale media attention or anything else.  So you are counting on these women in a remote village in the most destitute, desolate part of Africa to:

1. Have electricity

2. Have Internet access

3. Have a Facebook account

4. Know that you are doing this and to go to the right place in Facebook at the right time to witness your statement of camaraderie

5. Care what an overly well-fed white guy in Canada does ONCE to feel good, after which he climbs back into his SUV, goes home and gorges himself on more food in one meal than they will see in a week.”

“But I will feel good about it”, was his response.

Well, if that’s all there is to making a difference in the world, then I have a recommendation:

Let’s all take 5 minutes tomorrow, to think good thoughts or say a prayer for everyone, congratulate ourselves and God for optimizing our contribution to the world  and then go about living a life focused on our own needs instead of fixing the things around us.

Let’s not forget to tell everyone else about how good it felt also, preferably in an awesome display of social media prowess.

Pretty simple solution, isn’t it?

Well … not really.

It takes more than words and intentions

It’s going to take a lot of effort by a lot of people to protect the things we do well in this world and to fix the things we do poorly.

It’s going to take more than a lot of feel-good awareness campaigns where the sole intention is so that we feel good without care as to whether we are making a real, measurable impact.

When people respond to this by saying “but if I helped one, I made a difference” I believe this is a lazy copout.

Why be proud of helping one when with focused, measurable-outcome-based results we could have helped a hundred?

Or a thousand?

Or a million?

Let’s take a look at bully awareness, since it’s a hot topic these days.

Bully awareness campaigns are great, especially when they encourage action and especially when they show the victims that there is support for them.

But showing the victims that “you are loved” is not enough,

Blindly punishing bullies without understanding what motivates them or without trying to help them doesn’t solve bullying either.  For every one we punish, many people suffer in silence at the hands of the many bullies that continue to exist (in ever-increasing numbers). 

In addition, many bullies were created as a result of being bullied themselves. 

There are many victims in the bully puzzle and not just the obvious ones.

Being afraid to drill into what created the bully, including what happens in the home (the breeding ground for many bullies) for fear of violating “privacy rules” or “constitutional rights” dances around a critical cause-and-effect that needs to be understood and addressed.

Laws passed by people who, if you watch them in their legislative chamber at the provincial, state or federal level, exhibit the very essence of bullying that the laws exist to stamp out are also hypocritical.

So awareness without getting to the root cause and what it will take to solve the problem is just another form of feel good entertainment that sells well on the local news or gives us a “make you cry” moment on social media.

If we REALLY want to solve problems in this world, we must tackle them head-on, be audacious in asking difficult questions, allow ourselves to be burned by painful answers, set up success criteria where impact can be measured and be non-compromising when it comes to actually ferreting out the root of the problem and the foundation of the solution.

To do anything else is to offer lip service, a solution that allows us to pat ourselves on the back as if to say “Well, that problem’s solved – where else does the world need our brilliance?”.

It’s the thought that counts …. NOT

Talk is cheap.

Action and results, either by your hand or by the hand of someone you inspire are what matter.

The world is not short of opportunities to make a difference, to bring your talents, gifts and strengths to bear to help someone in need or to raise someone up so that they can help themselves.

What we are short of are people who are willing to do something as opposed to setting up a new cheerleader squad to make us all feel better that the rah rah is producing a result.

Especially if no one can prove definitively what the result actually looks like outside of a lot of good vibes amongst the participants.

As they say, the proof is in the pudding.

Ask the people who need the help whether your rah rah has made a difference, either through your actions or someone who was inspired by your rah rah.

That’s when you will know that your actions speak louder than words.

And you will also know what you need to do to really make a difference in the world.

Otherwise you are just offering lip service.

And of all the shortages we have in the world, lip service is not one of them.

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Addendum – November 20, 2012

A member of the Newfoundland House of Assembly is escorted from an arena after abusive behavior and language – and he was the coach of one of the teams.  With role models like this, is it any wonder that young people are having trouble sorting out the whole issue of bullying?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Success–Not Without Passion

When I am asked to partner with individuals and organizations, there are a few things that I need to see in order for me to collaborate with them.

They have to have a strong vision, mission and sense of purpose, a well-defined expression of their view of the world and their response to a need or opportunity in the world

They have to have a strategic plan with measurable outcomes.  If they don’t know where they’re going, then there is no point in setting out in the first place.

Lewis Carroll expressed it well.

In addition to a plan, they have to have tactical roadmaps that translate strategic plans into measurable goals and milestones.

They have to exhibit a propensity for intelligent execution.  The best laid plans without smart execution are just hopes and dreams.  As some say in business, there is nothing the world loves more than to snack on people’s unrealized dreams, as expressed humorously with this Despair.com poster.

Bitterness Demotivator

It’s all classic, business 101 stuff.

There is nothing magic here.

But all things being equal, there are two things important to me that separate those who just have great ideas from those who convert their ideas into reality.

One is an appropriate balance of hubris and humility – the ability to learn from others and the acknowledgement that they don’t know it all while at the same time not being a doormat.

The other is a sense of passion – that they are willing to do whatever it takes to translate vision into success.

The latter is really important to me.

Many times when people come to me for help, I may say “no” or “maybe” even when the opportunity looks very appealing.

It’s not because I don’t believe in the opportunity.

It’s because I want to see how badly they want it.

I want to see how they respond to “no”.

Do they say “Ok” and walk away with their tail between their legs?

Or do they say “I don’t accept no.  Here’s why I believe that we need to do this.”

If their passion is not burning hot enough to make their dream a reality, how do I know that they will do what it takes, especially when times get tough?

It’s when times get tough that appropriate strategy, strong plans, intelligence, sharp execution, market opportunity and luck may not be enough.

It’s during those times that passion may save the day, providing the fuel that allows one to persevere through adversity.

It may save your business.

It may save your Life.

As Nelson Mandela once said:

There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

But make sure one balances passion with intelligence, otherwise one ends up proving the wrong side of Francois de La Rochefoucauld’s belief when he said:

Passion makes idiots of the cleverest men, and makes the biggest idiots clever.

Be passionate about your business and your Life.

A Life well-lived demands nothing less.

Create a great day – because merely having one is too passive an experience.

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Leadership and Values - What Pressure Reveals

I recently had the heartbreaking task of walking away from a client.

The client has staggering potential in their market space.

They have a team of people whom I believe have the talent to get the company to where it needs to go.

Success is theirs for the taking.

So why did I walk away from them?

Because my passion for their success and my belief in their success potential exceeded theirs and it felt like I was dragging them begrudgingly across the finish line instead of collaborating with them and being delighted in watching them sprint across the finish line as they basked in the glory of victory.

And this violated one of my values, that of the power of collaboration built upon highlighting and harvesting the talents, strengths and skills of everyone involved coupled with an uncompromising passion for success built upon respect, transparency, honesty and intelligent action.

Some of them didn’t want success for themselves as much as I wanted for them.

And it was their company, not mine.

It was their dream.

Not mine.

The words were there – the actions were not. 

As I reflected on how the relationship evolved, it got me to thinking about values.

Values are an interesting thing.  It has been said that when we face pressure in our Life, the event doesn’t define us as much as it reveals who we really are.

And that’s when we realize how strong (or not) our values are.

When Life squeezes us, we can:

1. Abandon our values because others tell us to

2. Compromise our values in an effort to make others happy

3. Adhere to our values, knowing that it may make some people unhappy but we will have been true to ourselves and set an example for others to follow.

I stuck to my values in this case, knowing that it would upset people.

But it is better than living with compromised values (or none at all), which is what many people do.

What many people don’t realize is that when we abandon or compromise our values, we are dooming ourselves and others to failure and possibly greater pain down the road.

We just don’t know it yet.

And so we go through Life, avoiding pain by being what others expect us to be instead of being who we are truly are.

When that happens, we aren’t offering anyone any added value because we are not bringing our unique combination of values and insight to the table.

We are merely bringing to the table the insight and values that the other person has already embraced.

We are in fact, just like them!

Where’s the value in that?

Do you know what your values are?

Do you really stand by them – uncompromisingly but with respect?

Do your actions speak louder than words when it comes to expressing your values?

Do you stand by them when it is most difficult to do so?

Or do you allow yourself to blow in the breeze, your values being transient and indiscernible, bending to the will of people who would seek to alter your values to suit their wants or needs.

Do you stand by your values and principles, fighting for what you believe to be right or do you waste your energy fighting everything / everyone else?

Strength of our values determines the quality of our Life

When we are inevitably faced with difficulty in Life, we will discover that there is a big difference between being told we are defeated and believing it.

How we demonstrate our understanding of this will depend largely on how much we stand by our values.

But I guess that depends on whether we know what our values are and whether we have the courage to stand by them with conviction and respect.

Or if we allow them to be defined by someone else.

Do you know what values are most important to you?

Do you demonstrate your values effectively, uncompromisingly and with respect?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Remembrance Day–The Courage to be … Ungrateful??

It was with some surprise and disappointment that I noticed an article in the Edmonton Sun citing that children are permitted to opt out of Remembrance Day ceremonies for religious or personal reasons.

I was intrigued by this but thinking I was perhaps being oversensitive to the article, I tweeted Brett Wilson, noted businessman, philanthropist and supporter of our troops.

His response tells me that I didn’t overreact at all.

image

What followed from other people did surprise me.

Only a few people had the courage to comment publicly, with many sending me private messages and emails.  This public response stood out.

image

That’s right – apparently it takes courage to choose to be ungrateful to the brave men and women whom we’ve never met and who have paid or may pay the ultimate sacrifice.

The men and women who answer the call and lay it all on the line literally so that we can live a life of freedom.

Freedom to be inconsiderate or ungrateful to those who bought us our freedom with their lives.

I don’t think the brave soldiers who were pinned down on the beaches of Gallipoli suddenly said “Wait a minute, guys.  Shouldn’t we decide what’s in it for us first?”

The men who stormed the cliffs of Dieppe or the beaches of Normandy didn’t stop and reflect on the hope that someone at home might be grateful for what they were about to do.

The boys in the trenches of Europe, racked with dysentery, typhoid fever, trench foot, lice and everything else didn’t go on strike to demand better working conditions.

The pilots who flew into harms way on every sortie or the brave people who served in the Navy on the storm-tossed ocean fraught with danger didn’t do it to earn recognition for bravery.

The men and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq aren’t demanding red carpet treatment.

They serve for the love of their country.

They serve so that their country and the world will continue to be a strong, safe place for the generations to follow.

If I am a devout Christian and an atheist saves the life of my son, I don’t say “I’d love to thank you but I can’t because I disagree with your religious beliefs”.

If I am a Democrat (or Republican) and someone of the opposite party does a great deed for me, do I deny them gratitude because of their political stripes?

If I am straight (or gay) and someone of the opposite persuasion saves my Life, do I say “Thank but not thanks” because of our differences of opinion regarding sexual orientation?

Hardly.

I say thank you – with all my heart and soul.

And by the same token, we can be anti-war / pro-peace and still express gratitude for the people who have sacrificed everything to protect our freedom.

The brave men and women who have served and continue to serve do something that most of us would never have the guts to do ….

… to put their lives on the line with no gratitude or reward expected in return.

They not only sacrifice themselves on the battlefield but they come home and struggle with what they have witnessed, experiencing nightmares that haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Many live in poverty, abandoned by the system that they fought to protect.

So to refuse to remember those who have died or been maimed so that we can be free just because some can’t seem to separate the acts of gratitude and remembrance from the glorification of war aren’t expressing anything that takes courage.

They are expressing ignorance.

And for all the values that our brave men and women strive to preserve by creating a safer world for us, I don’t think the values of ignorance and ingratitude are on the list.

I am grateful for them every day …. not just on November 11th or on Memorial Day.

Find a vet and thank them for everything you have.

It is the least we can do for those who serve so unselfishly and so courageously.

Lest we forget.

In service and servanthood,

Harry

PS This moving song by fellow Newfoundlander Terry Kelly, A Pittance of Time, captures the essence of the need to remember.

Terry Kelly–A Pittance of Time

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Making the Most Out of a Situation

I received an email this morning with a story that made me laugh.

______________________________

Crate of Chickens

The farmer's son was returning from the market with a crate of chickens his father had entrusted to him, when all of a sudden the box fell and broke open.

Chickens scurried off in different directions, but the determined boy walked all over the neighborhood scooping up the wayward birds and returning them to the repaired crate.  Hoping he had found them all, the boy reluctantly returned home, expecting the worst.

"Pa, the chickens got loose," the boy confessed sadly, "but I managed to find all twelve of them."

"Well, you done a good job, son," the farmer beamed.

"You left with seven."

______________________________

When bad news comes our way, when a decision doesn’t turn in our favor or when someone tells us something we don’t like to hear, do we lament the bad news, feel diminished in some way, get angry with the person who has delivered the news or feel defeated?

Or do we make the most of what we have in hand, not realizing that the event (and the results of our actions in response) may be much more positive than we realize at the moment?

How we choose to respond determines the impact of the event and the nature of the result.

Let’s not assume the worst in a situation.

A situation oftentimes is not good or bad.

It’s just an event.

If we work hard and give the event and our response a chance to blossom, we determine if the event is a good one or a bad one and therefore determine if our future is a bright one or not.

What kind of future to you wish for?

Do you prefer to just allow that future to happen by accident?

Do you prefer to leave that future to someone else to manifest for you (as they see fit)?

Or do you choose to fight for what you believe, asserting that you have some say in the future that you wish to create?

After all, it’s all up to you, regardless of what you are facing today.

And all too often, many of us are too quick to judge an event, a situation or a person before the beauty and the positive aspects have been given a chance to develop and blossom.

You probably have more “chickens in the crate” than you realize.

But you won’t know this if you spend your time worrying about what you lost or how you have been defeated.

You deserve better than this.

You are capable of much better than this.

But you have to demand better … of yourself first and then of others.

In that order.

In service and servanthood,

Harry

PS I wrote this with a group of people in mind today. You know who you are.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The US Election and the Real Energy Crisis in America

It is with a sigh of relief (of sorts) that I see the current election campaign coming to an end in America.

It has been the most partisan, nastiest, information-less, information-twisting, spin-filled, hate-filled campaign that I have witnessed in my stay on this planet.

This campaign has truly brought out the best and the worst in many citizens in the great nation that is the United States of America.

It is also a reminder to me of the real energy crisis in America.

I hear that we need to be more energy-independent, that we will have an energy crisis if we don’t figure out more ways to be self-sustaining.

However, the real energy crisis is in how much negativity we are embracing and spreading, in this election campaign and in Life in general.

A shortage of petrol is not our issue.

A surplus of vitriol is the issue.

And as long as we drive our selfish wants and needs first and foremost and we are willing to beat people physically or verbally in order to drive our agenda with little respect for the opinions, ideas and needs of others, our situation will continue to get worse and not better.

“Democrat or Republican – A Difference Not It Makes” – Yoda

As Americans go to the polls today, it doesn’t matter if the winner is Democrat or Republican.

To think that one man with a few specific party ideals will magically transform the nation overnight is naive and dangerous.

2008 should have taught people this.

The country has an inertia that cannot be changed by the actions of a few people on the Hill.

It’s like a swimmer deciding that they can change the direction of a cruise ship by swimming up to it and pushing against the bow with their pinkie finger.

What matters is that the winner, either the incumbent or the challenger, put personal and party needs behind them and do what is right for the nation.

And that we lay our personal wants and needs aside, stop yelling and hurling insults at each other and work together with our lawmakers, regardless of party affiliation, to create a stronger nation and a stronger world.

Because if we don’t, our future looks far more uncertain than our present and may include some very real, very frightening scenarios.

Are you prepared to allow that to happen?

Are you willing to condemn your children to such a future – a future that you created because you couldn’t get past your disdain for the beliefs of your countryman in order to create a better world?

I didn’t think so.

But words are cheap.

Let your actions be so loud that no one can hear what you are saying.

Why wait for others to create a better world and be constantly disappointed in their efforts when we have a better chance to create one by working together and holding each other accountable and responsible for a better result?

It’s not up to “them” to create a better world.

It’s up to us.

All of us.

Create a great day – because merely having one is too passive an experience.

And if you live in America, get out and vote.  It is a privilege that many in the world will never have the opportunity to experience.

A privilege that should be the foundation of something to build a brighter future upon instead of something that divides us.

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Friday, November 2, 2012

Killing the Heart of a Nation

Anyone who knows me knows how I treasure and value the importance of rural Canada and rural America.

As a businessman, I recognize that the larger centers, whether it be Toronto, New York or the like, provide the “energy” to drive nations.

However, I also believe that the rural towns are the lifeblood of nations, often providing the last vestiges of the morals and values of yesteryear that we lament have disappeared from the larger centers.  The rural towns provide the balance against the larger centers and together, we find a way to make the balance work to create as strong a future as we can.

As someone who grew up in a rural environment before moving on to success in larger centers, I recognize the need for both.

When the lifeblood of a nation is weakened, I wonder what happens to that balance and the future of the nation itself.

While my ancestral home is Bell Island, Newfoundland, Canada, I grew up in a rural town “across the bay” called Foxtrap.  In 1971, it had an official population of 971 souls so this is as rural as it gets.  Until the early 90s, the primary sources of income for the majority of residents was farming and fishing.

Today, with the amalgamation of some surrounding communities, it still has a population of under 3,000 and Foxtrap itself is now part of the larger community of Conception Bay South.

It’s still as small as it gets.

So you can imagine my surprise and disappointment when I heard that in this sleepy little ocean-side town, it was announced that a new cabaret was opening today.

Cabaret is usually defined as form of entertainment featuring music, comedy, song, dance, recitation or drama.

Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?  In fact, while being a strange place to locate a theater, perhaps they are introducing a little culture to the town of my upbringing.

But it does strike my interest to know that a nearby house was also purchased to house “the dancers”.  Intriguing indeed – I’ve never heard of such special care being given to thespians before.

As a result, I couldn’t help but wonder what else they might do in such a house.

And then I look at the owners of the facility.

They are also the owners of a facility in the nearby city of St. John’s known as Sirens.

What kind of facility is Sirens?

This picture on the opening page of their website speaks volumes.

image

It doesn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination, does it?

It doesn’t look much like cabaret either.

Now, I’m not a prude by ANY stretch of the imagination.

I have no issue with strip clubs or the more commonly used term “gentlemen’s clubs”.

However, I do have an issue with where they are located.

Sirens is located in downtown St. John’s in an area known for its mix of bars, pubs and gentlemen’s clubs.

The new “cabaret club” is smack dab in the middle of the small rural town of Foxtrap.  The club has an elementary school bus stop in front of it and will be open for business when kids are dropped off in front of it.

All of these facts create a toxic mix in my brain that is not sitting right with me.

Who approved this?

This brings me to the people who approved the development of a “cabaret club” in the middle of this sleepy town.

The Town Council of Conception Bay South and Mayor Woody French said they had no confirmation of what the building would ultimately be, which is why they allowed the club to be put there.

Here’s the problem with such a statement.

If the leadership of a town doesn’t know what is being put in the town, then they shouldn’t allow it until they know.

If they know but can’t be transparent with the people living in the area, then they shouldn’t allow it to happen either.

To do so anyway speaks volumes in terms of their competence level and their ability to run a town.

Or perhaps it speaks louder in terms of their inability to do so.

If our rural towns are going to be allowed to have their heart ripped out through incompetent or immoral politicians, I fear for the future of our nation.  Once our foundation of morals and values is lost, all is lost.

A Message to Our “Leaders”

As for the Mayor of CBS and any councillors who voted for this and slyly slid it by the local residents, I offer this musing.

Since we are on the subject of cabaret, let’s explore the root of the word “actor”.

The word “actor” is derived from the Greek word “hypokrites”, from which we get the modern word hypocrite.

Any politician who would thrust a “cabaret” upon the residents of a small rural town by either not telling them that it was coming or by saying that he didn’t really know what was going there (which somehow makes it ok), is a hypocrite.

Or perhaps they are just acting, pretending to be competent community leaders when they in fact are not.

Either way, in conducting themselves as they are, they are taking responsibility for ripping the heart out of a rural community and a nation.

I wonder if they already have a communications strategy in place for when the inevitable drugs and prostitution pop up in the same area.

Here’s a hint to them: You better prepare it now – you will need it.

Here’s another thought to the town council: Why don’t you licence the establishment on the same street that you live on so you can see how it “contributes” to your neighbourhood.

All that being said, if the residents of Foxtrap don’t want this to happen, they need to do more than complain on the local radio station.

As Moliere, the French actor, once said:

“It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.”

We all share responsibility for making our communities and our nation strong.

A nation is made stronger when we take action and is weakened when we choose not to take action.

I wonder how the home of my youth chooses to defend that which is important to them and to the nation.

“To be, or not to be, that is the question”.

In service and servanthood,

Harry

PS  Dear churches.  You claim to be the keeper of morals and values in society-at-large.  Your absence in this dialog speaks volumes in itself and is in fact, hypocritical. 

Lead by example or move out of the way and let someone else do so.

PPS I wonder what the Right Honorable Terry French, Member of the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly, nephew of the mayor of Conception Bay South and resident of the area, thinks of this also.  As the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation and with a young daughter, his thoughts on the matter would be interesting to know.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Lessons from Sandy–Are We Listening?

I was on the phone with my son in New Jersey on Monday at the moment the roof of his home was lifted off by Sandy and he had to flee for his Life.

He left everything behind and sought safety as the water poured in from above.

Life is more important than stuff.

In the aftermath, I am surprised to see how many people have forgotten to express gratitude for what they have survived.

For example, I am intrigued and disappointed to see people in social media bash utilities like Jersey Central Power and Light and others, demanding that service be restored now or else.

Many of these people are in no imminent danger.  They are safely in their homes.  They don’t need power to pump out flooded homes.  They don’t need power to drive important medical equipment.

Compared to many people who are in danger or who have been made homeless, they don’t need anything at the moment.

They are, however, tired of the inconvenience.

Meanwhile people have died in this storm or have been wiped out.  Many are homeless or are days or weeks away from returning to what’s left of their homes.  A linesman in Ontario was electrocuted and killed repairing damage from Sandy.

The fine folks at all the utilities are doing their best to restore service as quickly and safely as possible.

The better question is “Did we do our best?" in preparation for the storm.

Are we doing our best now?

We were warned

The interesting thing is that with all of our ability to communicate and be informed, many chose to not take action despite being warned for days leading up to the event.

For as many of us who use smartphones daily for unimportant stuff, it turned out that the owners of the smartphones and other devices weren’t terribly smart at all.

While we are more intelligent collectively as a species than we ever have been in recorded history, I can’t say the same is true for many people as individuals.

Yes, it is true that for many in coastal areas or in known flood-prone areas, there is not much you can do but get out and say a prayer that what you leave behind will survive.

However, for many inland, being informed means being prepared, stocking up on food, water, fuel, sources of heat, sources of light and sources of electricity in the form of generators and the like.

And for some, this preparedness includes sources of self defense.

Emergency preparedness people tell us this all the time.

And few people listen and take action.

But man oh man, do they ever have the energy to slam the brave men and women who are out there rescuing people, cleaning up debris and doing their darndest (even putting their life on the line) to get the country back on its feet.

And instead of kissing the feet of those brave men and women, too many yell at them loudly and incessantly, claiming that their alleged incompetence and inability to deliver results when we demand them is simply not good enough.

Is this why brave men and women made (and make) the ultimate sacrifice in so many wars and in emergency responses and rescue services – to allow us to continue to be selfish, greedy and victims by our own hand?

I doubt it.

We had up to 7 days of warning to prepare.

And yes, people say that the hype over Hurricane Irene and such taught them that they could ignore this storm.

That’s an excuse – not a reason.

Here’s what frightens me.

Governments around the world, including the Canadian and US governments, are preparing for much larger disasters than Sandy.

These disasters may come in many forms. 

We have tasted natural disaster many times.

We have lived with the potential disaster of nuclear obliteration for decades.

Some people claim that disasters resulting from global warming will make Sandy seem like a breeze on a summer’s day in comparison.

Some nations are preparing for disasters that one would think only exist in the world of science fiction, including off-world threats.

Some believe that a cyber attack will derail us, creating confusion and devastation in transportation, energy production, communication, food and water distribution and perhaps even civil defense.

The good guys and the bad guys are planning for scenarios where, as great nations like the US are up to their eyeballs in dealing with something like Sandy, someone pushes “the button” and executes a cyber attack that turns everything off and leaves the nation totally defenseless.

Groups like the Department of Homeland Security and others are preparing for these scenarios and others – scenarios that would paralyze us with fear.

If one pays attention to the laws that are being passed, the scenarios that the military are rehearsing in the name of civil defense (not foreign wars) and the weapons that are being stockpiled for civil defense purposes, it is easy to see that the government is planning for something big.

Despite the conspiracy people who go crazy over this stuff, we need someone to prepare for such scenarios.  After all, we don’t seem capable or willing to do it ourselves.

The history of humanity teaches us that when it comes to preparedness, possibilities often turn into probabilities if we don’t address them or if we pretend that by not focusing on them that they will simply go away on their own.

When (not if) one those scenarios comes to pass, the people who actually have the energy to complain on Facebook, Twitter and the like will not be able to complain because the communication infrastructure will not be there to enable their griping.

It wouldn’t matter if the infrastructure was there anyway because most people will be so busy surviving that they won’t have time or energy to worry about complaining or reading other people’s complaints.

Using our energy appropriately

In storms like Sandy, once we realize that we have survived and are safe, we need to turn our energy and resources towards those who need help the most.

We need to lift up those who need to be lifted up.

We need to lift up those who sacrifice themselves or put their own lives on the line to lift others up.

And after we rebuild, which we always do, we need to ask ourselves one question.

What have I learned from this and how can I prepare myself and my family to deal with such events in a better way moving forward?

Because when the next one comes, and history teaches us that it will come, we need to do our best to be the strongest that we can be for ourselves, our families, our neighbours and our nation.

Failure to prepare may prove to be fatal …. for our ourselves, our families, our neighbours and our nation.

Instead of being the victim through failure to take action, let’s take control of our safety and our future and not rely on others to do it for us.

After all, it is possible that there may not be anyone out there who will be able to help us when the next event hits.

There is an old adage that “history teaches us that history teaches us nothing”.

Maybe it should be reworded along the lines of:

History always teaches us many things of great value.

The question is whether the students are listening, learning and applying the knowledge.

Let’s remember that rebuilding is not complete until the learning lessons have been acknowledged and applied.

Otherwise we haven’t learned anything at all.

In service and servanthood,

Harry

Addendum: November 1, 2012

My blog doesn’t show comments by default.  However, if one clicks on the comments link below, one will see an example of how such events can bring out the worst as well as the best in humanity.

My assertion that we need to take more responsibility for our safety and our future produced a death threat from someone who thought he was being anonymous.

As long as we have a sense of entitlement that we as individuals have no responsibility in taking care of ourselves (and thus our world), our world will continue to get more complex and more difficult.

A complex world where only the fittest will survive.

Just as Darwin suggested.

Addendum 2: November 1, 2012

Let’s not forget that preparedness not only means being ready ourselves but calling on other organizations to be ready also.

Personal responsibility and public accountability go hand-in-hand.

Otherwise we end up experiencing violence because of gas shortages, disappointment in groups like the Red Cross and other situations.

In the grand scheme of what governments are preparing for, Sandy may prove to be insignificant in impact.

Let’s make sure that we strive to be better prepared the next time.

And that only happens when we hold everyone, including ourselves, responsible for being better prepared.